Pakistan news March 30, 2015

Azhar Ali named Pakistan ODI captain

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Samiuddin: Azhar faces stern challenge

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has named Azhar Ali Pakistan's new ODI captain, and Test vice-captain. Misbah-ul-Haq will remain the Test captain while Shahid Afridi will continue to lead the Twenty20 side. There were changes in the selection committee as well, with former batsman Haroon Rasheed appointed the new chief selector. The PCB for the first time introduced a bona fide vice-captain for each format. The appointment, according to the PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan, is not a long-term prospect but for the "time-being." Sarfraz Ahmed was named vice-captain for the limited-overs formats.

"Using my constitutional right as chairman I have appointed Azhar Ali as Pakistan ODI captain," Shaharyar said in a press conference in Lahore on Monday. "There were four to five recommendations for captaincy but I didn't want to go back, and wanted to look ahead for young players. I know Azhar Ali was not in the team for the last two years, not even in the World Cup squad but his performance in the Pentangular Cup recently proved that he has the ability for the job.

"We wanted to built a team based on unity, spirit, fitness and discipline rather than having people with personal agendas. So I have discussed it with every stakeholder involved in the board and considering all aspects I have decided to appoint Azhar. He has the character, leadership quality, team spirit and has proved himself. We can't afford to have a young, 22-year-old captain in our system but we have inducted Sarfraz Ahmed as vice-captain [in ODIs] to groom him in the rebuilding process."

Rasheed's appointment cut short Moin Khan's contract, which was supposed to run till the 2016 World T20. The new four-member selection panel is made up of former internationals Kabir Khan, who was previously the coach of Afghanistan, Azhar Khan and Saleem Jaffar.

Azhar has played only 14 ODIs and last played in January 2013, despite having an average of 41.09. The 30-year-old is a regular in the Test XI, providing a steadying influence at No. 3. His strike rate in limited-overs cricket had always restrained the chances of an ODI call, though in recent times he has improved in that aspect. He was the leading run-scorer in the Pentangular Cup with 302 runs at an average of 60.40 and strike rate of 86.28. In the President's Gold Cup, he scored 234 runs with a strike rate of 86.98.

"I know this [strike rate] has been a point of concern in the past but in last one-and-half year I have definitely got this issue covered and have improved as well," Azhar said. "I have been working hard at NCA and my domestic record has already improved. So I am satisfied and when I get a chance I am going to prove it."

This is not the first time Azhar has been considered for the Pakistan captaincy. In 2010 he was seen as a potential candidate to take over after the spot-fixing saga, despite having made his debut only that year, but then chairman Ijaz Butt chose Misbah on the basis of experience. Azhar is understood to have smooth relationships with fellow players and the board. He has also captained at various levels in Pakistan, leading Lahore Eagles, Lahore Lions, Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited, Khan Research Laboratories and Baluchistan Warriors. Azhar also captained Wahab Riaz and Nasir Jamshed, members of Pakistan's World Cup squad, at the Under-19 level.

ESPNcricinfo understands that both captain and coach have no voting rights in the selection matters. According to the PCB policy, the captain is consulted but he holds no power to vote in selection, though he, along with the coach, can select the playing XI.

Following every poor series, the Pakistan captain was seen complaining about the selected pool of players and Misbah had recently asked for the captain to have a bigger say in selecting the squads. Shaharyar struck down the appeal and said this is the practice being adopted by most of the boards and the PCB will also continue the same way. 

"The captain and coach hold no right to vote in selection," he said. "Their inputs will definitely be considered but the selection committee will ultimately take the final call. This practice has been adopted by most of the boards around the world apart from New Zealand and a few others."

Azhar appeared to be "comfortable" with the policy as he said the PCB chairman and Rasheed have assured him full support. "I am fine with it as I am already assured full cooperation by the board and I am thankful to them for choosing me," Azhar said. "It's a big responsibility and I am happy and ready to take the challenge."

When asked how he would deal with players like Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shahzad, who are more experienced than him, Azhar said: "I have captained them in the past and it shouldn't be any problem in the future as well. They are good players and I hope they will be better in my captaincy."

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson

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